James Bond theme songs ranked best to worst

James Bond actorsJames Bond has been a cinematic icon for almost 60 years. No other film subject has had such an enduring presence, yielding new movies every few years. And what makes a successful James Bond theme song? The music should convey a touch of mystery, seduction, excitement, danger. There’s also room for a touch of humor. While the Bond films have tried on a variety of styles over the years—cabaret, R&B, rock, pop, adult contemporary—the most successful have felt integrated with the movie, stimulating the imagination. Here’s my take on ranking the 25 theme songs to date.

The Successul Top 15

1 – Goldfinger


Movie: Goldfinger / Release #3
Year: 1964
007: Sean Connery
Performer: Shirley Bassey
Writers: John Barry (music) / Lessie Bricusse and Anthony Newley (lyrics)
This classic James Bond tune, delivered with unforgettable gusto by Shirley Bassey, sets the perfect mood. It draws on the tradition of brassy strip-tease music but heightens the drama. The dissonances and chords based on flatted steps in the key signature keep the tonality unsettled, underscoring the mystery and sense of danger.

2 – The World Is Not Enough


Movie: The World Is Not Enough / Release #19
Year: 1999
007: Pierce Brosnan
Performer: Garbage
Writers: David Arnold (music) / Don Black (lyrics)
This song perfectly marries James Bond musical elements with Garbage’s edgy attitude, building to a powerful, explosive climax.

3 – Live and Let Die


Movie: Live and Let Die / Release #8
Year: 1973
007: Roger Moore
Performer: Paul McCartney and Wings
Writers: Paul and Linda McCartney
By 1973, McCartney had already crafted a number of successful pop songs consisting of multiple distinct sections. He used this approach for “Live and Let Die,” combining a slow verse/chorus structure with a faster bridge section and a jaunty diversion in the middle. The instrumental bridge adds excitement, while the diversion adds a touch of humor—the perfect recipe for 007.

4 – You Only Live Twice


Movie: You Only Live Twice / Release #5
Year: 1967
007: Sean Connery
Performer: Nancy Sinatra
Writers: John Barry (music) / Leslie Bricusse (lyrics)
The melody wavers between major and minor, which provides a satisfying flavor of mystery, seduction, and release.

5 – A View to a Kill


Movie: A View to a Kill / Release #14
Year: 1985
007: Roger Moore
Performer: Duran Duran
Writers: Duran Duran and John Barry
A great example of 80s style at its best, with Duran Duran’s unusual chord progressions keeping the song lively. The melody, orchestrated and slowed down, also provides haunting background music for a number of sexy scenes.

6 – Skyfall


Movie: Skyfall / Release #23
Year: 2012
007: Daniel Craig
Performer: Adele
Writers: Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth
Adele gives a nod to the classic 007 musical vibe while giving the interpretation her own spin. The song manages to marry the 1960s with a 2010s pop sound—quite an accomplishment.

7 – Diamonds Are Forever


Movie: Diamonds Are Forever / Release #7
Year: 1971
007: Sean Connery
Performer: Shirley Bassey
Writers: John Barry (music) / Don Black (lyrics)
Such a classic late 60s pop song: elegant, dramatic, with a touch of Burt Bacharach. The machine-gun orchestral jabs infuse the song with danger.

8 – License to Kill


Movie: License to Kill / Release #16
Year: 1989
007: Timothy Dalton
Performer: Gladys Knight
Writers: Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen, and Walter Afanasieff
The songwriting trio incorporates the opening brass chords from “Goldfinger” (which became a signature part of 007 soundtracks) in an 80s R&B sound. A great nod to tradition, delivered powerfully by Gladys Knight.

9 – The James Bond theme song


Movie: Dr. No / Release #1
Year: 1962
007: Sean Connery
Performer: John Barry Orchestra
Writers: Monty Norman (music) / no lyrics
This is the original theme music that defined not only James Bond but spy music in general. Although one of the few instrumental 007 theme songs, it became a classic and has appeared throughout the Bond films. John Barry orchestrated the song for this and many subsequent films in the series.

10 – Another Way to Die


Movie: Quantum of Solace / Release #22
Year: 2008
007: Daniel Craig
Performer: Jack White and Alicia Keys
Writers: Jack White
Hard and edgy, this song effectively incorporates a Bond-like motif introduced by Keys on piano.

11 – Nobody Does It Better


Movie: The Spy Who Loved Me / Release #10
Year: 1977
007: Roger Moore
Performer: Carly Simon
Writers: Marvin Hamlisch (music) / Carole Bayer Sager (lyrics)
A well-crafted song, but it doesn’t deliver the same punch as the best Bond theme songs. What lifts it into the top 15? The sly, sexually suggestive lyrics perfectly fit what 007 is about—at least in the bedroom.

12 – Goldeneye


Movie: Goldeneye / Release #17
Year: 1995
007: Pierce Brosnan
Performer: Tina Turner
Writers: Bono and the Edge
This songwriting duo from U2 incorporate the famous James Bond chord progression as a nod to tradition. Who else but Tina Turner can deliver sultry sexiness and untamed energy at the same time?

13 – You Know My Name


Movie: Casino Royale / Release #21
Year: 2006
007: Daniel Craig
Performer: Chris Cornell
Writers: Chris Cornell (lead singer, Soundgarden) and David Arnold
The chord progressions in the verse suggest mystery, climaxing in a grunge-infused melody in the chorus that successfully reflects the lyrics.

14 – From Russia with Love


Movie: From Russia with Love / Release #2
Year: 1963
007: Sean Connery
Performer: Matt Monro
Writers: Lionel Bart (music and music)
Unusual for a Bond film, the credits open with a brief instrumental version of the “Russia” song before segueing into the James Bond theme music written by Monty Norman. The actual sung version appears at the end with closing credits.

15 – Thunderball


Movie: Thunderball / Release #4
Year: 1965
007: Sean Connery
Performer: Tom Jones
Writers: John Barry (music) / Don Black (lyrics)
Cleverly uses classic 007 thematic musical elements to create a new song, establishing the perfect mood. Tom Jones, with his sexy yet old-fashioned chanteur style, may have been a somewhat cheesy choice to sing the song, but it works.

The Average Ones – Ranked 16-20

16 – For Your Eyes Only


Movie: For Your Eyes Only / Release #12
Year: 1981
007: Roger Moore
Performer: Sheena Easton
Writers: Bill Conti and Mike Leeson
My only problem with this song is that it sounds more like an average love song on the radio instead of what you’d expect in a spy movie. It also has a dated 80s arrangement. Not a bad song, but come on, for a Bond movie?

17 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service


Movie: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service / Release #6
Year: 1969
007: George Lazenby
Performer: John Barry Orchestra
Writers: John Barry (music) / no lyrics
Notable for using a Moog synthesizer for the bass line, this instrumental sets the right mood but is unmemorable—just like the actor who played Bond in this one-off.

18 – Moonraker


Movie: Moonraker / Release #11
Year: 1979
007: Roger Moore
Performer: Shirley Bassey
Writers: John Barry (music) / Hal David (lyrics)
Even Shirley Bassey can’t save this song from being just average. It sounds more like your run-of-the-mill pop song than what you’d find in a James Bond flic.

19 – The Living Daylights


Movie: The Living Daylights / Release #15
Year: 1987
007: Timothy Dalton
Performer: A-ha
Writers: Pål Waaktaar (guitarist, A-ha) and John Barry
Not a bad song, but compare it to what Duran Duran accomplished with an 80s vibe two years earlier.

20 – No Time to Die


Movie: No Time to Die / Release #25
Year: 2021
007: Daniel Craig
Performers: Billie Eilish
Writers: Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell
A decent song, but with its focus on being a love song, it doesn’t match what the Bond films are about. Granted, it may tie into the plot well, but can’t stand up against its competition.

The Losers – Ranked 21-25

21 – Tomorrow Never Dies


Movie: Tomorrow Never Dies / Release #18
Year: 1997
007: Pierce Brosnan
Performer: Sheryl Crow
Writers: Sheryl Crow and Mitchell Froom
This one tries too hard to blend disparate elements. The 6/8 rock-a-bye rhythm evokes early 60s pop, but that’s not something I associate with 007.

22 – The Man with the Golden Gun


Movie: The Man with the Golden Gun / Release #9
Year: 1974
007: Roger Moore
Performer: Lulu
Writers: John Barry (music) and Don Black (lyrics)
Unfortunately, John Barry tried to inject a hard rock vibe into this song, but it doesn’t work with the jaunty rhythm and just comes off as silly. It reminds me of what composers with no grounding in rock sound like when they try to imitate it. The start-and-stop structure of the song annoys me as well.

23 – All Time High


Movie: Octopussy / Release #13
Year: 1983
007: Roger Moore
Performer: Rita Coolidge
Writers: John Barry (music) / Tim Rice (lyrics)
This upbeat pop love song feels completely inappropriate for a James Bond movie.

24 – Writing’s on the Wall


Movie: Spectre / Release #24
Year: 2015
007: Daniel Craig
Performer: Sam Smith
Writers: Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes
Although the orchestration gives a nod to tradition, a male singing in falsetto does not do Bond justice. Who thought this would be a good match?

25 – Die Another Day


Movie: Die Another Day / Release #20
Year: 2002
007: Pierce Brosnan
Performer: Madonna
Writers: Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzaï
I really like a lot of Madonna’s music. She has a knack for working with great producers to create memorable songs. This, however, is a total misfire. The way she accents the wrong syllable at the end of every phrase annoys me. The melody is unimaginative. A major disappointment.

Dishonorable Mention

Song: Never Say Never Again


Movie: Never Say Never Again – based on the novel Thunderball
Year: 1983
007: Sean Connery
Performer: Lani Hall
Writers: Michel Legrand
Although Sean Connery reprised his role, this one-off is not part of the regular Bond oeuvre produced over the years by Eon. The wimpy pop song that opens the credits contains the right ingredients, but just wasn’t baked well.

Spotify Playlist: James Bond Theme Songs

spotify:playlist:4kdwLhdUpeFf7sK7ACY6vA

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